LAGUNA SECA, CALIFORNIA — There was a lot riding on the penultimate race of the 2017 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge for the Legistics/Rickie Fowler/RS1 team at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The race (on driver Nick Galante’s home track in Monterey, California) would be the culminating event of the first-ever Racing to End Alzheimer’s initiative to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. Instead of its usual team and sponsor logos, the #17 Porsche Cayman would be sporting a dramatic new livery emblazoned with the names of individuals whose lives were forever altered by Alzheimer’s disease. With Legistics CEO Phil Frengs covering all expenses associated with the charity, 100% of the proceeds would be donated to the search for a cure. And awareness of the battle to end the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease would be ratcheted up with every turn around the track. The team was excited to be part of such a meaningful and highly anticipated event.
At the same time, the #17 was under enormous pressure in the standings. In second place with just two races remaining in the season, the team knew that their powerful Porsche would be at a disadvantage on this small track with the kind of tight turns and short straights better suited to more nimble cars. The previous three years, Mazdas had dominated the podium. Adding to the tension was the fact that this would be the first time the race would clock in at four hours – a serious test of endurance and strategy at a juncture when drivers, crews and cars were all feeling the wear and tear of their long, roller-coaster season.
Driver Nick Galante qualified the #17 in the 11th spot despite the nimble field. He had a good start and held his position through the first hour of the race. In a tight battle with a BMW and a Mini Cooper, Galante outmaneuvered the challengers and moved up two crucial positions. After a perfectly executed pit stop at the halfway point, co-driver Spencer Pumpelly sprang into action, working his way from 9th position to 7th by the end of the race. With that solid result, the #17 narrowed the gap on the championship leader, the #56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman, which finished in 13th place.
But a 16-point gap remained. And the #17 team would need everything to come together perfectly in their final race to defend their 2016 championship title.